P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 105
20th June 2005
I. 'Interpreting Plato' by D.R. Khashaba
II. 'Mimesis in Aristotle and Pollock' by Andrew Watson
III. 'A Sunday Afternoon with Georges on an Island in the Cosmos' by
The nature of metaphysics, the nature of art, the relation between philosophy
and science and the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle all feature in this
D.R. Khashaba has kindly allowed us to publish the Introductory chapter from
his new book, Plato: An Interpretation where he argues that the study of Plato,
and philosophy itself have been seriously hindered by the false assimilation of
philosophy to scientific inquiry.
Andrew Watson, a teacher at Loretto School Edinburgh, is currently studying for
the Associate Award of the International Society for Philosophers under my
mentorship. In a well researched and thought provoking essay, Watson argues for
the relevance of Aristotle's theory of art as mimesis to the understanding of
the abstract expressionist paintings of Jackson Pollock.
In an imaginary dialogue with the painter Georges Seurat, Richard Schain
continues the theme of 'the pointillist canvas of eternity' explored in
previous Pathways articles and in his new book, In Love With Eternity.
I. 'INTERPRETING PLATO' BY D.R. KHASHABA
[This is an edited version of the first section of the Introduction to my newly
published Plato: An Interpretation.] 
Our understanding of Plato and our understanding of the nature of philosophy
are two sides of a coin. The dominant academic conception of the nature of
philosophical thinking vitiates both our understanding of philosophy and our
interpretation of Plato.
The sorry plight into which philosophy has fallen, was the result of philosophy
having been expected, and its being deluded into claiming, to serve the same
ends as science. It was expected to, and foolishly claimed to, seek true and
certain factual knowledge. This is a snare philosophy has to extricate itself
from. Unfortunately, this pernicious confusion of philosophy with science has
confounded all the terms needed for discussing the question: 'knowledge',
'truth', 'understanding', 'reason', etc., all of these terms suffer ambiguity
and can lead to much obfuscation and misunderstanding unless we pay careful
attention to the special usage of an individual writer. Because I aim at a
radical revision of our understanding of these terms I am painfully aware of
the fact that I am especially liable to be misunderstood when using them.
Just as facts about the natural world cannot be quarried from within the human
mind, so understanding cannot be found outside of the human mind. If we choose,
as is reasonable, to confine the epithet 'truth' to the ascertainment of facts,
then since, as Kant saw, no factual knowledge can be derived from pure
reasoning, we can say that pure reasoning is not concerned with truth. Our
factual knowledge cannot extend beyond our experience, as Locke and Hume
rightly insisted. On the other hand all meaning, all intelligibility, we 'find'
in the given phenomena of experience, is infused into the phenomena by the mind.
It is only then that they turn from blind and brute experiential stuff into
ordered, meaningful facts.
Furthermore, the mind not only projects patterns that give meaningfulness and
intelligibility to the content of experience, but goes on to create
second-order and third-order ideas and ideals that have their whole being in
the mind, and have reality (as, in my usage, opposed to existence) in the
special sense of constituting a plane of being realized in active, creative
intelligence. 'God', 'the soul', moral ideals and values, as creations of the
mind, are fictions or myths if you will, but they constitute the reality of the
spiritual plane of being that is the peculiar characteristic of humankind.
Religion is wrong when it represents these as facts and houses them in space
and time. Science is wrong when it discounts these realities because they fail
the criteria of objective verifiability. Philosophy is wrong when it thinks
itself obliged to choose between siding with the irrationality of religious
faith on the one hand and accepting the reductionist verdict of objective
science on the other hand.
Philosophy should see itself as a species of poetry, rational poetry,
creatively and coherently dreaming, mythologizing, unfolding the realities of
the spiritual life, soberly confessing its outpourings to be dreams, fictions,
and myths, but dreams, fictions, and myths that constitute our proper, true,
and most precious realities. This, I believe, was the profound insight and
vision of Plato, and this, I believe, was the essence of Kant's outlook, though
Kant was too much under the influence of the rationalism of his age to give
full, clear, and consistent expression to his basically true outlook.
At one point in the Phaedo (84c-88b) both Simmias and Cebes raise objections to
Socrates' initial argument for the immortality of the soul. In responding to
Cebes, Socrates begins by giving an account of his experience with
philosophical thinking, the famous 'autobiography' (96a-101e), which amounts to
renouncing not only all objective knowledge but also all demonstration or proof
in philosophy. This is what I refer to as the Socratic principle of philosophic
In philosophy we do not seek, and can never have, proven conclusions: we seek
intelligibility, understanding, a coherent vision. We approach that goal when
we have a system or network of concepts, ideals, values, that is internally
coherent and harmonious and has the virtue of infusing the various phases and
aspects of our life-experience with meaningfulness and value. That is how
philosophy, and only philosophy, can take over the role that religion formerly
played in human society. As I have been repeatedly saying, a philosophy creates
a universe of discourse which brings into being a domain of intelligibility in
which the mind can have its proper life as active, creative intelligence.
This poses a philosophical dilemma. If there can be no finality in
philosophical thinking, if no philosophical conclusions can be definitive or
certain, how can we avoid thoroughgoing relativism in morals and scepticism in
general? At this point in the Phaedo (88c-91c), Socrates warns his audience
against losing faith in reason in words that superficially sound like a
reversal of the Socratic principle of philosophic ignorance. But only
superficially, for Socrates finds assurance in the self-evidence of the
intelligible form. In the end, we find the only secure ground in the reality of
the active, creative nous; we find that phronesis is the whole of virtue and the
whole of reality.
The Socratic principle of philosophic ignorance in Plato develops into the
dialectic that destroys its own hypotheses. To overcome Pyrrhonism, ancient and
modern, and out-and-out relativism, we need a conception of dynamic rationality,
where reason is constantly alive and active and never static. Antisthenes and
Wittgenstein equally suffered for want of such a dynamic conception of reason.
The Socratic conception of the intelligible is the foundation of Platonism. The
intelligible is born in the mind. No idea comes to us from outside. No sensation
is in itself intelligible. The idea of equality is not derived from experience.
We might see a million equal things a million times and still not have the idea
'equal' until it flashes in the mind: "Of course, these are equal!" And it is
not necessary to see many equal things to form the idea 'equal'; a single pair
of equal things seen only once can be the occasion for the creation of the
idea. Again, we can have the idea 'equal' and apply it to many equals without
having the idea 'equality', which we should not call a higher abstraction but a
And this is not true only of imperceptible things like the idea 'equal'. We can
see trees and have no idea of a tree until we single it out of the nebulous
totality of seen things and give it a distinctive character. My seeing a tree
is an event. But my calling it a tree, my knowing it for a tree, is a rational
act, a creative act of the mind, by which the tree becomes to me, not a given
thing, not an impression fed into me from outside, but a meaning. This is the
essence of Socrates' distinction between the intelligible and the perceptible.
Socrates, because of his preoccupation with morals, did not speak of the ideas
of physical things, but only of ethical notions. But the extension and
development of the idea is true to the Socratic insight. Scholars, failing to
appreciate the revolutionary originality of Socrates' conception of the
intelligible realm and of the creativity of the mind, and seeing the Platonic
'separate forms' and 'separate soul' as novel doctrines without foundation in
the Socratic quest, make Socrates into a tame preacher of common morality and
Plato into a foolish advocate of indefensible doctrines.
A philosophical problem opens up for human thought a domain for creative
conceptual exploration. That is the principal thing that an original thinker
contributes to the human cultural heritage. A 'solution' to the problem is a
mapping of the domain from a particular perspective. Thales gave us the problem
of the universe. Anaximander, Anaxagoras, Leibniz, Schopenhauer, Whitehead (to
pick up names at random) gave their various mappings of the Problembereich (to
use a happy German word). Socrates gave us the problem of the intelligible
realm and the problem of the eternity of the soul (camouflaged in Plato's works
as the immortality of the soul). Parmenides gave us the problem of Reality, of
which Plato gave the grandest, sublimest mapping in the vision of the Form of
the Good. These are all creative conceptions that you cannot find in or derive
from anything outside the mind.
I have repeatedly put forward the view that philosophy is a creative endeavour,
oracularly proclaiming ideas and ideals that confer meaning and value on the
givennesses of experience and on human life. In philosophical thinking we start
from a given, more or less chaotic whole, and proceed to a creative, imaginative
re-presentation in a more coherent whole. The representation is creative - no
formal rules can make it necessarily derivable from the initial whole - and
being a representation it is necessarily a falsification. Not being necessarily
derivable, the derivation can always be challenged. Being necessarily a
falsification, the representation can always be refuted. This is the
explanation of the endless controversies of philosophers. However carefully
framed the premises, however astutely guarded the derivation, the consequence
brings in something that is only there by grace of creativity. It is an
impostor, though a divine impostor.
An original philosopher, who will not merely re-state the views of others,
finds a new way of looking at things. That philosopher then presents her/his
view, expounds it, elucidates it, exemplifies it, sings paeans in its praise.
All of that is as it should be. But then s/he goes on to say that all other
views are wrong, which is bad enough, but what is worse is that s/he does not
stop at that but goes on to 'prove' that all other views are wrong by showing
that they fail to reveal what her/his vision reveals, not realizing that the
'truth' thus revealed is the product of the peculiar way of looking at things.
This is the source of all philosophical feuds. Philosophers should realize that
every philosopher creates - strictly speaking - a whole new intelligible
universe that does not negate other intelligible universes.
There are propositions which any human being worth his salt will be willing to
fight for and die for, but not - if s/he be a true philosopher - assert as
definitively literal truth. In philosophical discussion, a conclusion is only
anagkaion ek ton homolegemenon, a phrase we meet with frequently in the
dialogues: what is necessary is only necessary as proceeding from what has
earlier been agreed; but what has been agreed can always be questioned, and
must always be questioned, if we are not to be enslaved by our own creations.
In philosophy no statement is ever good for good, simply and without
qualification. Plato is never forgetful of this. Those who speak with assurance
of Plato'a theory of this and theory of that should remind themselves of this.
It is a paradox of human thought and human communication that we are
necessitated to carry out our thinking and our intercourse in ambiguous terms.
The Leibnizian dream of a perfect language is a chimera. Except within systems
of purely formal, abstract symbols, which, however enormous may be their
practical utility, are of strictly restricted applicability, all living thought
and discourse, all thought and discourse relating to (I am at a loss for an
epithet) 'concrete', 'real', 'organic' situations, can only be carried out in
fluid, ambiguous, hazy terms. Otherwise they would fail to be relevant to the
ever-changing, never-static, actualities of life.
That is why in poetry and in philosophy at its best, language is most
indefinite and most inspirative. When people are oblivious of this, individual
thinking is dogmatic, bigoted, intolerant, and conversants throw all kinds of
accusations at each other. If and when we are aware of this insight which
Socrates and Plato never tired of disseminating, we can humbly and patiently
work continually towards more and more clarity in our understanding of
ourselves and towards more mutual sympathetic understanding with our
Plato more than once speaks of giving a logos alethes when he is about to offer
a muthos. The two are inseparable: the logos alethes can only be embodied in
myth. This is the lesson about the nature of philosophical thinking that we
should have learned from Plato, but which we are too clever to grasp.
Plato gave us the profoundest truths about ourselves and about Reality in
winged myths - the eternal forms, the immortal soul, anamnesis. Our learned
scholars turn the myths into silly dogmata, into transparently erroneous
doctrines, and all is lost: the inspirational core, the inspired insight, is
dissipated when its housing shell of myth is shattered.
Thus scholars find in Plato's works theories that they proceed to prove
untenable, and since those theories are all they see in Plato, or all they are
interested in, with their demolition are lost all the insights he clothed in
those 'theories' - insights that have enriched humanity, that have in truth
translated humanity into a new plane of being. Our life has been so much the
poorer because we insist on being so much the cleverer. We have become
materialists instead of idealists, and we tell ourselves that it can't be
helped, that otherwise we would be fooling ourselves. And why is that so? Only
because we have fallen to the scientistic delusion: we think that our
philosophy must be true to and of the world. We fail to see that theoretical
materialism and theoretical idealism are nothing but ways of looking at things
and that it is entirely up to us to adopt this or that view. Our philosophy has
nothing to do with the way the world is and has everything to do with what life
we choose to live.
It is futile to subject the writings of Plato to the rigour of logical
analysis, whether to refute him by showing him to be inconsistent or to
vindicate him by discovering consistency underneath the apparent inconsistency.
Plato does not give us a neat philosophical system. Plato gives us insight and
inspiration that help us look into our own reality to which we may then give
expression in philosophical positions of our own making. The harmony and unity
in Plato's overall philosophical positions come from the unity of the radical
insight into that one reality, our own reality as intelligent beings, which
then flows and meanders in many streams that may diverge or criss-cross without
disowning their common source.
Scholars torment themselves needlessly in trying to hammer Plato's various
views and positions into a well-ordered and consistent system. He was not
giving an account of objective actualities but giving mythical expression to
ineffable realities, and was at liberty to modify his images and imaginative
descriptions. You don't ask a painter who paints several landscapes of a
favourite location to make copies of his own work, or one who paints more than
one portrait of a single person, even at one and the same period of his
subject's life, to produce identical portraits. It is our confusing the nature
of philosophy with that of science (which alone is concerned with objective
actualities), that is at the root of interminable scholarly controversy and
endless futile attempts to force the thought of great creative philosophers
into nicely set moulds. Plato only provides the most remarkable illustration of
this because he is the most highly creative, but it is true in the case of all
great philosophers, the more so the more profound and original a philosopher is.
So, to each her or his own Plato. Accordingly, I present my own Plato. I ask no
one to say that I am right, but let no one say that I am wrong. akoue de to emon
onar, eite dia keraton eite di' elephantos eleluthen: hear then my dream, be it
coming through the horn or through the ivory gate. (Charmides, 173a).
1. Plato: An Interpretation (2005), published by Virtualbookworm.com
Publishing. See http://www.virtualbookworm.com/platoaninterpretation.html
(c) D. R. Khashaba 2005
II. 'MIMESIS IN ARISTOTLE AND POLLOCK' BY ANDREW WATSON
Metaphors and epiphanies of probable and possible worlds: Aristotle's concept
of mimesis and its significance for non-representational 'abstract art', with
particular reference to Jackson Pollock
In a recent introduction to Philosophy of Art, it is stated that 'Plato and
Aristotle thought that the arts of poetry, painting, sculpture, dance and music
shared a common feature: they were all involved in imitation'. It is argued
that the theory of art 'presupposed in the writings of Plato and Aristotle' is:
'x is an artwork only if it is imitation'. This theory is then shown to be
false or too narrowly restrictive as it cannot accommodate the apparently
non-imitative 'pure colour fields' of twentieth-century artists like Mark
Rothko or pure instrumental music. In conclusion, what Plato and Aristotle
assumed arose as the result of 'what was available to them. It is only through
the benefit of hindsight that we can see how far off they were'.
In these terms, Plato and Aristotle seem to have no significance to
twentieth-century abstract art. If there is a deeper and more complex
relationship between their ideas and paintings produced centuries later, little
attempt is made to explore the possibilities. It seems that the superficial
label of mimesis keeps them locked in their own culture.
It is the purpose of this article to explore Aristotle's conception of mimesis
and its link to nature and to the metaphysical realm, which deserves deeper
consideration in relation to our responses to twentieth-century art,
particularly that of Jackson Pollock whose work and approach will be discussed.
Unlike Plato, who, in his fixation with eternal forms, viewed the natural world
as an illusory realm, Aristotle sought to give a satisfactory account of nature,
studying material things, natural phenomena and general aspects of nature in a
systematic manner. Aristotle argued that the ideal or the universal can be
found in the particulars and this became the cornerstone of his metaphysics of
nature. This is generally recognised to be the most fundamental difference
between Aristotle and his master, Plato.
It is true, as Aristotle states quite clearly in the Poetics, that 'Epic and
tragic poetry, as well as comedy, dithyramb, and most music for aulos and lyre,
are all, taken as a whole, kinds of mimesis' (1447a). But Aristotle made a
distinction between useful crafts and fine arts. He said that 'Art [techne]
either brings to an end [it realises and fulfils] what nature cannot achieve,
or it mimesises nature' (Physics 199a). To understand Aristotle's use of the
word 'mimesise' is an important first step in the process of freeing oneself
from the biased overtones of the verb 'to imitate'.
At 1448b of the Poetics Aristotle states what he feels to be the core of art
and poetry. 'It is clear' he begins, 'that the general origin of poetry was due
to two causes, each of them part of human nature'. The first is that 'imitation
is natural to man from childhood' and that 'man learns first by imitation'; the
second is that 'it is also natural for all to delight in works of imitation'.
Aristotle thus initially uses the term mimesis to connote the duplication of
sounds in a straightforward sense. But this mimesis also serves as a vehicle
through which learning can be expressed and conveyed. It is also asserted at
1448b that the 'delight in seeing a picture is that one is at the same time
learning, gathering the meaning of things'.
One of the most important additions to these passages is when Aristotle
develops another strand of meaning from mimesis to show that it is not solely
located in elementary perception of objects, but that it 'involves the formal
properties of the mimetic object'. If one has not seen the thing in a
picture that is being represented, one's 'pleasure will not be in the picture
as an imitation of it, but will be due to the execution or colouring or some
similar cause' (Poetics 1448b) - or in other words, the work's formal
It is the objects of mimesis that have been claimed to reveal the 'full
character of Aristotelian mimesis' of which nature (physis) and action (praxis)
are the two core objects. Nature is discussed in the Physics and contains
Aristotle's celebrated claim he techne mimeitai ten physin, usually translated
as 'Art imitates nature'. Bredin/ Santoro-Brienza's analysis of this statement
is important and worth citing in full as it clears away the misleading nature
of the above translation. They emphasise that:
Aristotle does not say that art mimesises natural objects,
but that it mimesises nature - that is, nature itself, the
universal immanent process of self-unfolding, the internal
principle that produces and manifests itself in natural
beings. Nature, understood in this way, is not a thing or
an object, nor a set of things or objects. It is not an
empirically observable object or phenomenon at all, nor any
kind of datum or given. And nature in this sense cannot be
copied or imitated or represented by any kind of concrete
image... what art 'imitates' is, rather, the teleological
dynamic of nature
Aristotle explains that 'Nature is the end for the sake of which. For if a
thing undergoes a continual change toward some end, that last stage is actually
for the sake of which'. This also applies to the arts as they also 'make their
material' and 'we use everything as if it were there for our sake. For we also
are in a sense an end' (Physics 194a). So nature has its end in itself, and art
has man as its aim, as art is the result of an idea or plan in the creator's
mind. As Bredin/ Santoro-Brienza sum up, a proper translation of he techne
mimeitai ten physin would be 'Art produces extrinsically as nature unfolds
immanently'. In other words, art is an emergent process and nature is an
The second division of nature into praxis also benefits from elucidation.
Action might be seen to stand for concrete behavioural things like talking and
moving but Aristotle is speaking about one single action. The multiplicity of
actions and things that are shown by, and happen to characters in plays cannot
be unified, as some of these, such as the hero of the Odyssey getting wounded
at Parnassus and his feigning of madness 'had no necessary or probable
connection with one another' (Poetics 1451a). Homer made no attempt to unify
actions understood in the behavioural sense because these types of things that
are unconnected cannot be unified. Instead Homer's subject was an 'action with
a unity' (Poetics 1451a) of a different kind: a single spiritual occurrence
whose inherent creative principle unfolds to reveal one essential plot.
Aristotle further confirms his position by comparing poetry with history.
Like Plato, Aristotle also realised that the poet does not always write about
particular events or facts. Aristotle states that 'the poet's task is to
describe, not the thing that has happened, but a kind of thing that might
happen, that is, what is possible as being probable or necessary' (Poetics
1451a-b). He explains that the historian 'describes the thing that has been',
and the poet 'a kind of thing that might be', concluding that poetry is
something more philosophical and of graver importance than history, since its
statements are of the nature rather of universals, whereas those of history are
singulars' (Poetics 1451a-b). Although not made explicit in the passage just
cited, Aristotle's conception of mimesis is implicit in it. Things that are
possible and probable cannot be detected through empirical observations and
cannot be copied in a representational way.
Later in the Poetics at 1460b Aristotle specifies that the poet is a 'mimetist'
and 'must of necessity mimesise one of three objects: things as they were or
are, things as they are said or thought to be, or things as they ought to be'.
Obviously, to use the last category as an example, 'things as they ought to be'
are not actual objects that can be imitated. This clearly differs considerably
from Plato's idea of art as generating inferior copies of real objects.
Aristotle believed that artists deal with truth by looking at possibilities and
probabilities 'with the imaginative, creative, fictional constructions of
symbolic and ideal worlds'. He argued that 'it may be impossible that there
should be men such as Zeuxis painted. "Yes", we say, "but the impossible is the
better thing; for the paradigm or ideal type must go beyond [reality]"' (Poetics
So, art, in Aristotle's terms, consists not in imitating an ideal form but
rather in composing an ideal form. Verisimilitude in art means that it conforms
to laws of 'ideal probability and necessity' as it is through art that 'we
encounter metaphors and epiphanies of probable and possible worlds'.
It is therefore apparent that Aristotle could not have meant that artists
should slavishly copy nature in order to achieve an elementary verisimilitude
in their works. This is to simplify what is obviously a much more intricate
matter and is too restrictive in its analysis: the very thing of which
Aristotle often stands accused. Bredin/ Santoro-Brienza's sensitive,
sophisticated account realises that in Aristotelian terms, works of art are
'co-realities or verisimilitudes of reality'.
There have been many twentieth-century artists who have sought to paint
'reality'. Georgio Morandi and Piet Mondrian did so cerebrally, Jackson
Pollock, instinctively. To use Pollock as an example, it is worthwhile
considering his work and his approach in light of Aristotle's conception of
Pollock's alignment with nature was finely tuned. His connection with nature's
intrinsic patterns, rhythms and structures gave rise to a process in the artist
that inspired him to produce dynamic, yet carefully wrought images full of the
'epiphanies' that Bredin/ Santoro-Brienza speak of. The artist gives us
insights with things on various levels, producing layers of meaning that we can
compare with those that we recognise in the physical world such as the
structures of trees, for example. The artist, however, has penetrated further,
giving us a new world to consider, transcending the stuff of paint and its
physical properties towards a universal fractal structure that cannot be
empirically observed. An understanding of the principle of such structures,
not only allows a deeper insight into Pollock's work, but also throws light on
Aristotle's concept of mimesis, especially in connection with the aesthetics of
music, which many philosophers, like Carroll, feel mimetic theory cannot account
When we look at clouds, coastlines or trees, we experience on one level an
immediate response to their intrinsic beauty, and this familiarity seems to be
a shared human experience. But what most observers of nature do not realise is
that a fractal, a mathematical principle of self-similarity, lies behind the
patterns that we see on a daily basis, and is a principle of profound
mathematical and scientific importance - an invisible yet tangible universal
that beats at the heart of the universe. This principle is also found in what
we hear. 1/f noise, its origins still a mystery to science, has been found in
various physical systems like sounds from air and water movement, and in music,
covering a vast range from medieval to the Beatles.
What links our experience of 1/f noise with other natural phenomena or music
with painted images is that, 'aesthetically, our visual and auditory senses are
"tuned" to the borderland between regularity and irregularity, the detail of
which is captured simply by the notion of statistical self-similarity and
fractal dimension', which in the case of clouds, for example, is connected
with spatial dimensions, and in the case of 1/f noise, with time. Thus, for a
truly engaging structure to emerge in a painting, the application of paint has
to be formed in a way that lies on the edge of randomness. If the paint is too
uniform, the images lose power, if it is too chaotic, it is not possible for a
structure to emerge. Similarly, fractal generated music demonstrated three
different types of noise, the first of which, so called 'white' music, is too
random, and virtually unbearable to listen to, 'Brown' music or 1/f2 is too
synchronized, whereas 1/f noise is closest to real music and the most pleasing
to the ear. It has been claimed that these 'measurements show that music is
imitating the characteristic way our world changes in time', and at the
same time, transcending it. This suggests an answer to a concern that many
philosophers have had, and which was first voiced by Plato, namely that in
music without words it is 'extraordinarily difficult to know what the rhythm
and harmony without speech are supposed to signify and what worthwhile object
they imitate and represent' (Laws II, 669e).
Jackson Pollock's Lavender Mist, widely recognised to be one of his most
beautiful and harmonious paintings, has a fractal dimension of approximately
1.67, which accords with the Golden Mean, a principle of proportion that the
Greeks first recognised as being present in nature. Now for Pollock to have
arrived at this conclusion without using any traditional mathematical formulas,
or painting techniques, suggests that the artist's emotional alignment with the
natural world was so sensitively attuned that he was able to unlock a universal
in a highly original way. Thus Pollock anticipated Benoit Mandelbrot's proof of
the universal's existence in nature by twenty five years, his now celebrated
Mandelbrot Set, which was itself visually released from a formula that had
existed for some time.
But if one accepts that art and music mimesise the 'teleological dynamic of
nature', how exactly do they do this? If 'art is the result of an idea or a
plan in the creator's mind' what form does this artistic plan take? Klempner
has wondered if Pollock has 'a plan in his mind' at all or is it rather that
the painting follows its own intrinsic laws which 'the painter has no choice
but to follow?'
It has been shown that Pollock's crucial anchor layer of paint with which he
began his drip paintings was completed in under a minute, an extremely short
period of time given the large-scale of the canvas. This is all the more
astounding because the patterns created were 'complex and intricate'. It
has been speculated that once the process of dripping paint had begun, this
'''triggered" an implicit or instinctive recognition of the fractal geometry
pouring onto his canvas'. The conclusion drawn from this is that 'Pollock's
actions weren't driven purely by conscious deliberation' and his
appreciation of nature was therefore instinctive or in Pirsigian terms,
For the defining principle of the whole work to emerge so fluently and purely
at the outset of the artistic process is surely significant. This emergence
seemed to have happened at a pre-intellectual level, and once registered, first
emotionally and then intellectually by the artist, he seems to have experienced
a type of magnetic pull to fractal patterns, fascinated by what he was
recognising intuitively and visually, which he assembled, broke up and
re-assembled into layer upon layer of complex harmonies, a dynamic process of
emergence and reductionism, until a greater whole emerged. Is this whole
something as it 'ought to be', the 'ideal type that goes beyond'?
Pollock's richly textured canvases continue to captivate large numbers of
people who view them. The works exude a still, resonating force, and allow the
viewer to step into the same world that Pollock found so arresting. This can
work on two levels: in the recognition of nature's harmony; and in the
recognition of a transcendent harmony for which the colours and patterns act as
trigger. Above the painting's colour and texture, which on one level can
produce a pleasurable response, lies the work's underlying fractal forms
conforming to laws that are 'ideal probable and possible', creating in us not
only deeper understanding, but also many other feelings like joy or wonder.
This might partly answer the question that one philosopher has asked, namely
'what it is about [mimetic] art that enables it to represent its (ideal,
typical) subjects in a way that is aesthetically rewarding'.
The core of this universal wonder is no doubt the same one that Plato believes
the poet arrives at through divine inspiration. Aristotle too points to the
non-material aspect of 'reality itself' but has followed a different path from
that taken by Plato, one involving reflection and analysis of matter in the
ephemeral realm. It is a wonderful thought to consider mathematicians,
scientists and artists 'composing' ideal forms because in Aristotelian terms,
this is what happens when true engagement with nature has taken place. To
merely copy nature or dryly analyse it, is not to create at all. To mimesise
nature is to create through 'action with a unity', like a single pulse that
stilly and quietly unfolds itself, like a cloud in wind whose shape changes
almost imperceptibly into myriad fractal forms, each one equally as harmonious
and beautiful as the last, but the cloud nevertheless remaining one form.
Aristotle may not then have been as surprised as some might think if he had
been presented with an image of the type that Pollock produced. Pollock, like
many artists before him, knew that his art could not in its essence, 'better'
nature. Aristotle recognised this too. In his Politics he mentions that 'the
eye of one person' taken in isolation, 'would be fairer' than the one 'in the
picture' (1291b). If the artist only copied a pattern in nature then Plato
would have been right to condemn it. But Pollock has not done this. He told us
something more about nature, more about the universe, by recognising that the
goal orientated extrinsic process he was involved in as an artist was analogous
with the intrinsic progression of nature.
Science has shown that Pollock did not 'mimic what patterns in Nature looked
like' but 'instead used Nature's motion - chaos - in his painting technique and
hence generated pure Nature in his paintings'. This calls into question the
accuracy of describing Pollock as an Abstract Expressionist as his 'patterns
are far from abstract'. This then gives rise to the need to re-assess the
relevance of Aristotle's concept of mimesis in relation to so called abstract
art. As highlighted in this article, a more sensitive reading of what Aristotle
says would still allow for a connection to be made between his ideas and the
'pure colour fields' of artists like Mark Rothko, because Aristotle realised
that pleasure could be taken from a painting based purely on the work's formal
properties. With the benefit of scientific analysis of Pollock's work, the
connection between Aristotle and twentieth-century art is further strengthened.
In fact, there could hardly be an artist who more aptly fits an Aristotelian
based theory than Pollock because the artist has made manifest in physical
form, an ideal, without copying anything: he has instead 'combined' the
'scattered elements' (Politics 1291b) and truly mimesised nature.
1. Noel Carroll, Philosophy of Art A contemporary introduction, London, 1999,
2. Ibid., p.21.
3. Ibid., p.22.
4. All passages that quote Aristotle are taken from Jonathan Barnes, ed., The
Complete Works of Aristotle, 2 vols., Princeton (New Jersey), 1999.
5. Hugh Bredin and Liberato Santoro-Brienza, Philosophies of Art and Beauty
Introducing Aesthetics, Edinburgh, 2000, p.37.
6. Ibid., p.38.
7. Ibid., p.38.
8. Ibid., p.38.
9. Ibid. p.40.
10. Ibid. p.40.
11. Ibid., p.42.
12. The exhibition catalogue of Pollock's work that has been used in the
formation of this article is Kirk Varnedoe and Pepe Karmel, eds., Jackson
Pollock New Approaches, The Museum of Modern Art, New York , 1999.
13. For a fractal analysis of Pollock's work see Richard P. Taylor, Adam P.
Micolich, David Jonas, 'Using Science to Investigate Jackson Pollock's Drip
Paintings', Journal of Consciousness Studies, 7 no. 8-9, 2000, pp.137-50.
14. See Heinz-Otto Peitgen, Dietmar Saupe, eds., The Science of Fractal Images,
New York, 1980, pp.39-44. I am most grateful to my colleague Dr. Martin Baker
for drawing this book to my attention and also for being so generous in sharing
his ideas with me.
15. Extract taken from correspondence with Dr. Martin Baker.
16. Heinz-Otto Peitgen, Dietmar Saupe, op. cit., (note 14), p.42.
17. John M. Cooper, ed., Plato Complete Works, Indianapolis, 1997.
18. Note taken from a lecture on the connection between maths and art given by
Dr Martin Baker at Loretto School, 2002.
19. The formula was Z n+1 = Zn2 + C. Mandelbrot's 'Set' was printed in colour
from a computer. I am grateful to Dr Martin Baker for drawing my attention to
20. Extracts taken from correspondence with Dr. Geoffrey Klempner.
21. Richard P. Taylor et al, op. cit. (note 13) p. 146.
22. Ibid., p. 148.
23. Ibid., p.148.
24. See Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, An Inquiry
into Values, London, 1999, especially chapters 19 and 20.
25. The neurobiologist, Semir Zeki, has shown in his stimulating and important
book, Inner Vision An Exploration of Art and the Brain, Oxford, 1999, that the
neurological response of the observer of a piece of art is homeomorphic (ie.
mimesises) the neurological state of the artist that conceived the work, a
significant claim that deserves deeper consideration with regard to aesthetics,
and especially to Aristotle's conception of mimesis. 'Aristotle's use of the
concept of mimesis is similar to the mathematical concept of "homeomorphism"
where the intrinsic properties of one mathematical object are compared to the
intrinsic properties of another, apparently different system'. Extract from
correspondence with Dr Martin Baker.
26. Sebastian Gardner, 'Aesthetics', in A. C.Grayling, ed., Philosophy 1 a
guide through the subject, Oxford, 1995.
27. Richard P. Taylor et al, op. cit. (note 13) p.149.
(c) Andrew Watson 2005
III. 'A SUNDAY AFTERNOON WITH GEORGES ON AN ISLAND IN THE COSMOS' BY
"Any individual who does not live poetically or religiously is a fool."
Kierkegaard Concluding Unscientific Postscript Existential Pathos, 2
GEORGES I am surprised, Richard, that you have found my theory about
pointillism to be of value in understanding the cosmos.
RICHARD It is not at all surprising, Georges, because the thought of an
individual always reflects the entire universe. You have hit upon something of
profound metaphysical significance - without realizing it yourself.
GEORGES Please, I brought optical science to the art of composition of a
painting. Do not confuse my work with metaphysics!
RICHARD You may have brought optical science to painting, but all science is
founded on metaphysical suppositions. Most scientists keep them in the shadows.
However, my thoughts on the subject are rational and greatly rely on science for
their legitimacy. Let me tell you how.
The contribution that modern physics has brought to philosophy is very
significant. It has exploded the notion that the past no longer exists. And I
don't mean that it exists in the collective memory of Homo sapiens or as
antecedents to present events or as great accomplishments that persist. No, the
study of time has revealed that there is no difference between the past, the
present or the future. It is a human illusion that they are different. The only
reality is space-time existing as a seamless whole.
GEORGES That sounds ridiculous to me. Of course, I have a past, an all too
short one but one of which I am proud. Unfortunately I no longer have a future,
yet others do. Here now is the present in which we are conversing.
RICHARD My thoughts sound ridiculous to you only because of your habits of
thinking. If you had studied Kant instead of optical science, you would know
what I mean. Your ideas about time stem entirely from your own brain and not
from reality. They are a useful shorthand for getting on in the world but of no
value in understanding its nature. Now that physics has finally caught up with
Kant, perhaps his ideas will have more currency in our society. The prestige of
science does wonders for neglected ideas.
But it is not my intent to elucidate the relativity theories of Einstein and
his epigones - I don't have the ability or the desire to do so. What interests
me are the radical metaphysical implications that they bring to light. Suddenly
the question of death and immortality are seen in a new way.
GEORGES What has all this got to do with my theory of pointillism in art?
RICHARD Patience, Georges, patience. One must proceed slowly in metaphysical
The special problem of every individual is the apparent transitoriness of his
life. All of his other concerns are minor compared to this one. Death means
oblivion; he could tolerate all manner of ills if oblivion were not the
inevitable specter at the end of his efforts. This is why the promises of
Christianity are so appealing to him. Christianity promises him immortality if
he subscribes to its tenets. Never mind that these promises have been long
recognized to be ill-founded. They meet an essential need of his nature. Human
beings, to use Spinoza's phrase, wish to persist in their being, which means to
live on indefinitely.
GEORGES I never expected to live forever, no matter what the priests told me. I
resigned myself to my mortality - as does any intelligent person.
RICHARD Yes, but in the depths of your soul you were unhappy about it. As well
you should be, since it would be a tragedy that a man of your intellect and
achievements should suddenly vanish from existence. But this was not the case:
what happened was that a limit was placed on the temporal dimension of your
being as it is on every living thing. You still exist in the space-time
continuum of the cosmos. You yourself are a vibrant brush stroke on the
pointillist canvas of eternity.
GEORGES You are telling me the same kind of fairy tale that the priests did!
This makes no sense to me, it could not be true.
RICHARD I won't dwell further on how it can be true. In my view, it has been
established beyond a shadow of a doubt. You would have to read the popularizers
of Einstein to learn for yourself how it can be. You would have to suspend your
intuitive common sense and plunge into the language of physics and mathematics.
This is difficult for anyone accustomed to his life-long perceptual intuitions
about time. You must trust the reliability of physics in its own domain without
necessarily limiting your mind to its discoveries.
The implications of Einstein's demonstrations go beyond physics. Here we enter
into the province of philosophy. Before we talk of pointillism, I want to tell
you of a vision that came to me one night in a half-waking, half-dreamlike
state. I don't claim that it is an exact depiction of existence. That would be
too much to ask of anyone trying to discern ultimate realities. I am convinced,
however, that something like it is true. Furthermore, in my judgement, it is a
picture worthy of the critical faculties of homo sapiens and one that does not
violate his intellectual conscience.
I became aware that the existence of a first principle, an ultimate reality, or
if I may use the term without offense, a Deity that underlies existence, is such
a compelling thought and its rejection is so absurd that no thinking person,
other than a few fanatics of materialism, could deny its truth. This Deity
"expresses" his nature in manifold ways; thus the cosmos with all its
ramifications has appeared. Initially, matter was spread out in the vastness of
intergalactic time and space. Although its dimensions were enormous, they lacked
the necessary subtlety to do justice to his nature. Matter followed exact laws
laid down by him, which gradually became repetitive and monotonous. Deity's
plastic powers looked for new directions for its expression.
Then, in a distant corner of the universe, he produced a new form of existence
we call life. This new creation existed in an infinitesimally small part of the
space-time continuum, but this smallness was compensated for by its qualities of
spontaneity and development. Its compression into minute dimensions permitted a
vitality that was impossible for sidereal matter. Still, it was only a crude
expression of Deity. The tree of life bloomed, but still did not satisfy his
At last, however, life was endowed with a new property called thought, which by
its nature must be free. Suddenly (cosmically speaking) all things became
possible for this life form. Homo sapiens could remember, plan, create, form
abstractions and generate consciousness. In its creativity, it began to
resemble Deity although I consider it exaggerated to say this form was created
in his image since all life forms, including homo sapiens, have a limited time
dimension. They are mortal. This seemingly gives a tragic quality to the
otherwise deity-like aspects of a person possessing thought.
It is essential to remember, though, that for Deity there is no such thing as
transitoriness because he is not limited to the time dimension imposed on the
perceptions of living creatures. There is no past or future for the perceptions
of Deity; all realities are eternal for him. No individual "brush stroke" of
being ever disappears from his gaze. Thus we come to the pointillist canvas of
GEORGES I was wondering if you would ever get to that point - no pun intended.
RICHARD Your patience is finally rewarded. You discovered a new art form
resulting from the application of individual brush strokes. It is applicable
not only for canvases appearing in the exhibition halls of the world, but also
for the totality of individual human beings endowed with thought. Each human
life is like a luminous brush stroke applied upon an eternal cosmic canvas. To
the extent that it develops its unique individuality, each human life enhances
the canvas. The event of death for a human is not his end in the eyes of Deity
who experiences all space-time as the continuous whole of mathematical physics.
The result is an eternal pointillist canvas endowed with qualities that no
individual point in it could ever possess. Thus human life is not transitory
but has its eternal existence on the cosmic canvas.
Now one day even this cosmic canvas must be delimited within time and the human
race will have fulfilled its destiny. I doubt that this canvas can be Deity's
final expression. You must remember I defined Deity as the ultimate principle
of being without further specification - a negative theology. There may be
other forms of being in universes spatially or temporally distant from ours.
There are even other dimensions known to theoretical physics that are unknown
to human perceptions. Perhaps there are parallel universes present at this very
point in space and time containing more adequate expressions of Deity. Here one
approaches impenetrable cosmic mists beyond which, as Aristotle says in his
Metaphysics, human thought should not extend.
Of course, there are those whose soul has not been touched by an ultimate
reality and they will dismiss my report as a myth, not understanding that the
meaning missing from science can be found in myths. They provide their own
explanation of the phenomenon of man. They say he is a statistical aberration
in the flow of entropy, a quirk occurring in an infinite time span. They do not
recognize any meaning to the human condition and refuse to accept any form of
knowledge other than that provided by their laboratory instruments.
Experimental verification to them is the hallmark of truth; without this
imprimatur, they deny the possibility of knowledge. They reach heights of
insufferable arrogance by confining truth exclusively to their methods of
You, Monsieur Seurat, should feel privileged that in your brief life you hit
upon a fundamental feature of the cosmos, albeit you had a different goal in
mind. So did Columbus when he discovered America for the Europeans. Even if the
cognoscenti of the art world had never valued your canvases, you yourself would
have a prominent place in the vastly more important pointillist canvas of
GEORGES You seem to have much enlarged my concept of depicting nature by points
and dabs. Tell me more about this artist-Deity who uses my technique.
RICHARD There is no more that I know. My report is finished.
(c) Richard Schain 2005
Web site: http://rschain1.tripod.com
1. Georges Seurat French Pointillist Painter, 1859-1891
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